The Dictionary Project, Volume X: East India Islands

The Dictionary Project is a post-a-day exploration of The Century Dictionary and Cylopedia, a twelve-volume set printed in New York in 1901. The Project runs from October 1, 2014 to September 30, 2015, and matches volume numbers to calendar months. Volume X is The Atlas, and today is Day 27.

Today marks the beginning of examining small land masses, specifically chains of islands. We start with the “East India Islands”, largely composed of (in engraved capitals) Dutch East India. Usual trigger warnings for colonialism.

1897 Map of East India Islands

The Dutch East India Company had been dissolved nearly a hundred years before this map was drawn, but its influence is still felt in the nomenclature of the territory it had formerly controlled, which was now administered by the Dutch Batavian government. Look at the size comparator for this map: instead of an American state, it’s actually the Netherlands, and it’s teensy, compared to most of these islands. That was a bit of a revelation for me; I had to check it on Google Earth. And yes, this just in: the Netherlands is a tiny country.

I have always had a personal fascination with this particular archipelago, for various reasons. I’ve always loved the bent-k shape of Celebes, and names like Sarawak, Sulawesi, and Sumatra feel like music in the mouth. I’ve never been anywhere near any of these places, though I have friends who have spent happy vacations in Indonesia (notably on Bali). I haven’t met many people who’ve been to Sumatra, or Borneo, or any of the other less-touristy places. I’m sure they get their visitors, but I’m willing to bet most of them aren’t tourists.

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